There was a woman who had grown up in the church. She knew the gospel. She had attended church all the way up until high school at which point, she left her faith behind. It didn’t work for her anymore. She didn’t find that God was real. She left.
She started to explore what it looked like to have her own morals. How do I have an ethical code outside a Christian paradigm that, previously, was the basis of my morality? What was she supposed to do about generosity, and substances, and sex? She didn’t have much to work with anymore, only what a 16 year old would be able to come up with on her own, so she started to experiment. She started dating and sleeping with a guy who generally treated her well. He was a good guy. She was grateful to have someone like him as her first.
She actually really enjoyed sex. The two of them started exploring marijuana and eventually other mind-altering drugs. They enjoyed the experiences they had. Coming down wasn’t great, but it wasn’t unmanageable either. They tried to be careful, they tried to educated themselves.
Under all this was a deeply ingrained sense of shame. She tried to be aware of it. She tried to wrestle through it. She knew she still carried religious moral structures in her deep mental and emotional frameworks. She tried to be kind to herself.
She went to college and the distance was too much for their relationship. They broke up and she easily connected with another guy. Her life carried on. Not poorly, either.
One night she is going to bed, fighting hard to discover and master sleep, when she has a spontaneous thought. “God, are you real?” The words show up in her mind without her initiating them. They are simply there, uncalled for, as if someone else has spoken them directly into her brain. It is like a blast from her past. Surprise, mixed with an odd disgust. This concept of God and religion has been off her radar for so long, and with it comes a new wave of shame and obligation. She fell asleep in spite of this invasion on her mind.
She dreams. It is a dream she cannot shake. Vivid, colorful, kinetic. It is not a dream that fades as she wakes up. It stays, crystal clear in her mind. It isn’t a dark, weird, hyper-sexual, shocking dream. It is a plain dream. In many ways, not a special dream at all. A man simply walks up to her and, with deep love and compassion in his voice says, “Beware the judgement of God.”
She awakes from this dream feeling like something has shifted. Something is happening in a core part of her being. Her life has changed and she doesn’t like it. It isn’t so much the dream itself, but the words gross her out. “Beware the judgement of God.” More religious brainwashing. More control structures to get her to stay in line and perform her moral circus-act for God’s entertainment. This is all the religious oppression that I grew up with that I want nothing to do with anymore. That I’ve spent so long trying to dismantle and deconstruct in my mind and heart. Yuck.
She tries to ignore it. She tries to suppress it. She tries everything she can think of to extricate these words from her mind. But, they just seem to come back. “Beware the judgement of God. Beware the judgement of God. Beware the judgement of God.” The terrible song, stuck on repeat. She notices her chest is tight. Is this anxiety?
The following night she falls asleep with those words still echoing through her mind and she dreams again. A giant, ominous door opens and the same man as last night steps out, approaching her. “Beware the judgement of God. In three days, the judgement of God will be poured out on you.” She wakes up.
She’s pissed. What the hell is happening? She didn’t ask for any of this. This is obviously the same religious bull shit she was indoctrinated into her as a child. He screams and pounds her pillow with her fists. The brainwashing went deeper than she knew. Those bastards. All the old religious pain resurfaces. She jumps to her feet and throws her middle finger to the sky yelling, “Fuck you, God! Fuck you! I’ve chosen this life and it’s been good. I’ve found beauty in sex. Beauty in drugs. Beauty in having a good, fucking time. I’ve found more life here than I’ve ever found in the church, so go fuck yourself. I’m not going to change. I’m not going to repent.”
Still the words echo through her mind all throughout the day. She wonders if she’s going mad.
The next night, “Beware the judgement of God. In two days, the judgement of God will be unleashed upon you.”
She sees her counselor that afternoon. It helps. She feels more in control and remembers who she is. The shame doesn’t feel as heavy and powerful.
“Beware the judgement of God. Tomorrow, the judgement of God will be unleashed upon you.” She sees the same man turn and walk away from her with a sense of finality. Her attention is drawn to the doors he has just walked through. Giant, double doors. The kind with an arch above the doors so that each half has a quarter circle at the top. The door might be metal, but it has a grain structure like wood. It is intricately crafted. She steps forward to examine it more closely. She feels energy burning off the door. She fears it. She is curious, but doesn’t want it to open. To expose what is on the other side. Or is she the one who doesn’t want to be exposed? She anticipates an electric shock but as her fingertips are about to make contact, she awakes. Her pillow is wet. She’s been sweating. She’s cold.
She spends a long time staring at herself in the mirror that morning. When would it come? Would there be another dream? Was she going to die today? Would an angel appear to her? No, that was crazy talk. Was this her last day on earth? Maybe. Not quite so crazy.
She calls her boyfriend. He didn’t need to be to class for another two hours. Good. She’s coming over. The drive is a perfect time to cuss God out and beat her steering wheel. Her hands start to hurt, but that is nothing compared to the headache.
She doesn’t tell him what has been happening, just draws him into the bedroom for angry sex. Not at him, but at God. It seems like a good way to unleash the emotional energy while also giving God one final middle finger.
The rest of the day is a haze. She is irritable. Probably offends more than one friend throughout the course of it.
She is afraid to go to bed. Nothing significant has happened that day. As much as she hates to admit it, she is fairly convinced that she is having actual supernatural encounters. I hate that this is happening. My mind and my dreams are being violated by a God who is trying to get me to conform to him and perform for him. What a sadistic, self-absorbed, small God who somehow needs me to follow his rulebook so that he can get off on controlling little, powerless people. This is manipulation, plain and simple. Spiritual abuse. And yet, she couldn’t shake the fact that this might be real. She is in bed before eleven, but still staring at the ceiling at one, two, three in the morning.
She doesn’t remember how she falls asleep, but there’s another dream. No man. Just the doors. They are sacred, holy doors. Again they are energized, pulsating with power. This time she touches them, expecting… what? Some sort of doom, death, destruction. The doors simply open to the vast throne room of God. It is packed with people, or are they angels? Aren’t they supposed to be angels, if this is heaven?
Almost against her will, as if someone else is choosing her steps for her she walks down the aisle. That part feels like a dream anyway. Not fully in control. Things happening to you. You happening to you. Everyone is looking at her. Internally, she is fighting. Hating and dreading every step. Wanting to run away. She doesn’t know how to use her body. It’s not doing what it’s supposed to. It feels like miles from the doors to the throne. She looks up to the raised pedestal and sees a figure seated there. She feels the bigness, the grandeur, the majesty of this place. I should have repented. I should have confessed my sins. I should have changed. I should have done something. It’s too late. Fuck… Fuck, fuck, fuck. Shit.
Dread. Fear. Terror even. Closer.
She sees the first step. She keeps her head down. She doesn’t dare look up. She no longer feels shame, she is shame. She thinks of every Bible verse she was made to memorize as a kid. Sermons echo through her mind. Everything that is against God’s will is in her mind. Her body takes her up the steps. One, two, three. She loses count sometime after thirty. She’s too scared to think in numbers and counting. She’s reached the top. This is it.
She looks up, not sure why she dares and sees him. He is massive, powerful, kingly. Ironically he’s the stereotypical old-man in shining clothes. Wrinkly skin, aged, but still muscular. Imposing might be a good word. Terrible would be better.
She hears a voice to her right and sees the man from her other dreams sitting at a desk writing with a feather quill. He must be a scribe. She hates how proper and old it all feels. He’s speaking, “Behold, the judgement of God!” Already?! Don’t I get to say something? Make my case?
But, God is already standing up from his throne, towering over her. She looks up, drawn to his face, his eyes. He takes off his kingly robe. He tosses aside his crown. His face is crinkled up in a sort of grimace. Is he angry? No, it’s pain. Suddenly God starts to weep. He collapses, sobbing on the ground. He starts to hyperventilate and between gasping breaths he speaks for the first time, “You are worthy of love! You are worthy of love! You are worthy of love! My judgement is that you are worthy of love.”